World wakes up to teacher shortage

8th December 2000 at 00:00
Rotterdam, New York and Berlin join London as the cities worst-affected by a growing global problem, reports Clare Dean

THE Government this week set up a special unit to tackle the growing teacher recruitment crisis, amid claims that London has one of the worst staff shortages in the world.

The launch of the unit acknowledges the scale of the task facing British schools, and it now appears other countries have similar problems. The four hotspots for teacher shortages are London, New York, Rotterdam and Berlin, according to a report presented at a conference in The Hague last month.

In this country, the struggle to find staff could see more schools operating part-time. Recruitment analyst John Howson, visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University, warned that many schools in England could no longer find supply teachers.

The resulting lack of cover, he said, meant that only a mild winter and no flu epidemic would keep schools open full-time in January.

Up to now, just three schools - Corby community college, Beechwood in Slough and Upbury Manor in the Medway - have been forced to operate part-time. All three are back on full timetables having recruited extra teachers.

David Normington, director-general for schools at the Department for Education and Employment, has pledged "special help and support" where schools are at risk of moving to a short week.

But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "I have no doubt tat in January we shall see more schools on a short week in places like London and Surrey."

The report presented to the Hague conference was prepared by education journalist Robert Sikkes, on behalf of a Dutch organisation representing employers in education, trade unions and government.

London's prominence in the report is based on a joint survey by The TES and the Secondary Heads Association which predicted 4,000 vacancies nationwide at the start of this term.

The DFEE claimed there were about 1,000 vacancies and said that this year there were 2,000 recruits to teacher training - the first rise in recruitment since 1992.

Figures later produced by the House of Commons Library, however, warned that Britain could be short of around 31,000 teachers by 2004. And two weeks ago, the Prime Minister admitted 250,000 extra teachers would need to be recruited in the next decade.

The worldwide problem is not simply down to bad pay and low status, but the ageing profile of the profession, according to the four-month study by Mr Sikkes, which involved visits to Belgium and England. Across the world, tens of thousands of teachers will retire within the next decade, reflecting the ageing population of the developed world.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, whose members are developed countries, estimates that in the next 25 years, 25 million people in member nations will retire while only five million will enter the labour market.

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